Man posing as lawyer files papers to free inmate, puts court on alert

April 07, 2017

A man posing as a lawyer this week managed to get his “client” a personal recognizance bond from a judge despite having no law license.

The incident Monday triggered a security alert at the Travis County courthouse, where a bulletin issued to staff members warned them that the man, 36-year-old Craig A. Nehrkorn, had posed as an attorney, according to a copy of the security bulletin obtained by the American-Statesman.

“It’s extremely troubling for many reasons, including the safety and security of the judge and municipal court personnel working at central booking,” Sherry Statman, the lead judge for Austin’s municipal court system, said in an email.

Security at the Travis County courthouse in particular has been a hot-button issue since an assassination attempt was made on state District Court Judge Julie Kocurek. A bill known as the Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act that will address courthouse security is making its way through the Legislature. The measure would, among other things, require that judges and courthouse employees receive enhanced security training that would be paid for with a $5 increase to civil court filing fees.

RELATED: With riveting words from Julie Kocurek, son, court security bill OK’d

According to the alert, Nehrkorn entered the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center at 9:26 p.m. with a woman. He told a deputy she was there to meet with pretrial services to submit an affidavit to allow for the release of a man who Nehrkorn identified as his client.

Pretrial services met with Nehrkorn before he was later sent down to the on-duty judge who granted a personal recognizance bond for the man Nehrkorn was purported to be legally representing. The personal bond essentially authorizes the release of an inmate without the person having to pay bail.

After the judge signed the paperwork, it was discovered that the inmate had no attorney on record. The judge then asked for Nehrkorn’s Texas State Bar ID number.

It was then that Nehrkorn admitted he wasn’t an attorney and said he was a legal assistant. The magistrate judge then asked Nehrkorn to leave the judge’s office, and he was escorted out of the building without incident.

Authorities wouldn’t identify the inmate or the judge, and a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office wouldn’t provide any further details about the incident, citing an ongoing investigation.

Statman said she will meet with the head of pretrial services and a lieutenant at the sheriff’s office to discuss how the incident happened.

“I’ve suggested we look towards establishing a protocol wherein a lawyer who is not known to pretrial services and/or doesn’t have a county issued ID for the criminal courthouse must show his or her bar card well before he or she is admitted the judges’ office,” Statman said.